Report by Daniel Mortlock:
For me today's game began at about the same time as I was being told that First Captial Connect apologised for any inconvenience that a forty-minute delay might have caused; for everyone else involved it began with with Oliver Harris (36 off 43 balls with 4 fours) starting right where he left off last week, hitting three of his first five balls to the boundary as we raced to 25 off two overs. From there NCI pegged us back well, and our score of 75/2 after 17 overs was only healthy-looking because of that rapid start. It was at about this point that the storm clouds which had been gathering so ominously from the start of play finally found their voice, and the ground was drenched as we sat twiddling our thumbs for a quarter of an hour or so.
When play continued, so did the dominance of ball over bat, with the former beating the latter worryingly often and the scoring rate down below four an over. Our hopes of passing 200 for the second week in a row were dwindling, especially after the explosive John Gull (15 off 20 balls with 3 fours) was bowled in the 22nd over. One or two more wickets and we could have been in real trouble but, after a few initial uncertainties, Tony Desimone (91* off 111 balls with 14 fours) and Ev Fox (74* off 58 balls with 12 fours and a six) settled into the most destructive of grooves, Tony repeatedly connecting with his big cut shot, and Ev playing sublimely off his legs. By the end of the innings the fielders appeared completely demoralised -- being been one man short in muggy conditions it was no surprise that overthrows and simple misses had started to creep in to their game. Tony was also starting to struggle by this stage, having re-injured his hamstring when he slipped on the wet grass, but Ev just moved up through the gears, the highlight being a dot-free sequence of 4 4 1 1 2 4 4 1 1 4 4 (i.e., 30 runs off 11 balls). They finished up plundering 97 off the last ten overs of the innings, taking our total to 242/3 and their own partnership to 138 (undefeated) off 19.3 overs of sublime batting.
During this time Shane Minett and her mum had provided us with the most magnificent tea recorded anywhere outside a Lewis Carroll novel, individual plates of cold meats and salad leading to an explosion of deserts, ranging all the way from healthy fruit salads to the indulgence of several different, equally magnificent, cakes. Aside from being delicious, it would have been a superb method to weigh down the opposition but for the fact that this was New Romsey who, as everyone knows, fields second.
Unlike the last two weeks we didn't manage to start our defense with a wicket in the first over, but we were still pretty happy when Daniel Mortlock (0/42, beating the bat and erratic in about equal measure) and Andy Owen (1/9 and brilliantly tight in his first six-over spell) kept NCI to just 19/1 after their first ten overs. A double bowling change was then doubly successful, with Tom Jordan (2/35 in his first spell) and Russell Woolf (1/62) both getting wickets. It seemed the only thing between us and a third consecutive victory was the possibility of rain and, sure enough, we came off for ten minutes of griping about the cricketing gods denying us our rightful victory before heading back out onto a surprisingly unaffected ground.
The next half-hour, however, suggested we might have been a tad overcondfident -- NCI's fifth wicket pair took the score from a hopeless 72/4 in the 20th over to a slightly disconcerting 155/4 in the 32nd. As the batsmen began to gain in confidence, so we started to flirt with out-moded ``Old Romsey'' policies, with a great many misfields, some exasperated swearing, and a few wild throws (one of which, from close range, might have killed Ev if it wasn't for the fact he had a box in). Also notable was some failed experimentation with slow, short-pitched (i.e., crap) deliveries; these were routinely dispatched to the boundary, from where loud cheering was starting to be heard from the NCI faithful as they started to sniff the possibility of a miracle win. Certainly NCI had all the momentum, and they'd started to score at the ten an over they needed to win; for our part we did at least have runs on the board, but what we needed was a wicket.
With nine overs to go, Andy Owen brought himself back on but after a few balls he too was smacked decisively to leg, the striker having timed the ball perfectly . . . but he placed it rather poorly, as it went straight to (or, rather, at) Tony Desimone at short mid-wicket. Despite the fact that he was now virtually immobile (his hammy having seized up as it cooled), Tony managed to get down to the ball, diving sideways and backwards to take an extrordinary goalie-style catch. And even if it was the less dangerous of the two batsmen walking back to the pavilion in disbelief, it was still the first success we'd had in a good half an hour, and maybe we'd finally be able to close the game out.
Or maybe we wouldn't: at the pavilion end the ``half tracker'' syndrome had proved contagious, along with a secondary infection of the ``yips'' which saw several balls sail way over the batsman and keeper, eventually coming to a rest after briefly entering low Earth orbit. The scale of the epidemic can be judged from the fact that we tried four different bowlers in five overs from this end at one stage -- if the wheels hadn't quite fallen off, the nuts were certainly loose. And, when the score reached 205/5 in the 36th over (i.e., 38 needed off 27 balls), NCI might even have been winning for the first time in the match.
It was at about this time that Andy called me over for a serious man-to-man chat: he had two more overs left and was bowling brilliantly, but who was going to deliver the other three? Our regular attack had either used up their allocation or been smacked around during the previous hour's mayhem, so it was a tricky question on which the result probably hinged. At which point I heard a plaintive voice in my head: ``Bowl Tom . . . bowl Tom . . . bowl Tom . . .'' (Paul can be such a pushy dad at times; I told him to stop bothering us and get off the ground since he wasn't even playing today.) Back to the problem at hand, though: who should bowl those three overs? Of course: bowl Tom! Suddenly it all made sense! Now I was a man on a mission: ``Here's the plan, Andy -- Tom bowls his leg-spin from this end and gets them all out while you switch into a holding role from the northern end, but maybe we slot someone else in for the penultimate over so you can bowl the final one if need be -- we could maybe even try and sneak Paul on and bowl him in the hope that the NCI guys don't notice.'' Okay, so not that last bit (although it would have been fun to try), but about the first point I was serious. Andy narrowed his eyes suspiciously in exactly they way you'd expect of someone thinking that it was a bit crazy to ask a thirteen-year-old, in his first season of senior cricket, and who'd already been hit out of the ground once or twice, to come back on and bowl wrist spin against a pair of batsman who've been scoring at will for the last hour. But, to his credit, all he said was ``Okay,'' which is what Tom said as well when we asked him to turn his arm over. Indeed, Tom seemed reasonably unperturbed by all this, and had a few warm-up deliveries while a deep leg-side field was set for the inevitable pulls and slogs that would come, a long-on, cow corner, square-leg and backward square all placed right on the boundary. Finally we were all set and Tom ran in to start his second spell.
The first ball was too short, and unfussily smacked way over Andy's head at square leg for six; not good, but a loosener's fair enough. The second ball was better, but still short enough to pull, even if not quite as well, and it seemed a back-pedalling Andy might be able to get to it . . . which he did, taking an astonishing one handed catch, almost in the casual way a bowler does when the ball's thrown back to him. He pulled up quickly and then looked down in horror to see that the vicious bastard white boundary line was tucked snugly underneath his back foot. So, after all that, it was two sixes in two balls, and it seemed our audacious plan wasn't going to come off. Still, Tom had four more balls left, and his next one was a proper leggie, nicely flighted and full. (To freeze the replay there, with the ball in flight, this represented a mini-triumph regardless of how the batsman played it -- keeping one's composure after being hit out of the ground is hard enough at the best of times, let alone in the adrenaline-fuelled situation we had here.) The batsman did manage to get to the pitch of the ball, but it was just a single to long-on where Rod Dennis (who I don't think misfielded once in all this madness) was on the spot to prevent a second run. Tom's fourth delivery was also good, and this time the batsman didn't quite get to the pitch of the ball, and his drive went more up than across, heading into the vicinity of the cruelly vacant mid-off region. It appeared he was going to get away with his false shot . . . until Russell Woolf hove into view, coming round from mid-wicket like an avalanche of pumped up fury, eventually grasping the ball full stretch as he let out a primeval roar of triumph. We all ran in to congratulate the two of them, hoping that this wicket would finally slow down an NCI team that still seemed to have as much momentum as Russ at full-tilt.
Andy, having checked that he was indeed supposed to bowl the next over, started his third spell for the day, and immediately managed to get the wicket we really needed, just clipping the off-stump of one Tajuddin Baig, whose brilliant 83 was the main reason the match was going down to the wire. The rest of the over was good too, with just some singles and twos, after which it was back to the leg-side cordon for Tom.
And again a batsman tried his luck, a big cross-bat hoik heading out towards us at an alarming speed. This time it was my turn to find my feet taking me off on an intercept course, and I managed to reach the ball when it was about three feet above and about a foot beyond the boundary line. Somehow it stuck in my out-stretched hand -- pretty cool, eh? -- but I knew the boundary was close, and I'd been forced to pull up in about a step or so. My gaze went from my hand down to my feet . . . to see a huge gap of at least two inches between my crummy old shoes and the evil white line. More back-slapping and slightly inept high-fiving followed, but this time with a sense that we were finally winning again.
The new batsman was then lured out of his ground as Ev Fox completed a comfortable stumping which left NCI nine-down. Moreover, without anyone really noticing it, Tom had gotten his first ever ``Michelle'' (and, indeed, the club's first since early 2003), finishing up with 5/58, including the critical sequence of W 4 . 2 2 W W right when it mattered.
With 20 needed off the last two overs, Andy then set about the task of keeping the runs down (or, even better, getting a wicket) and ran in. It was fast, full and straight and the NCI number eleven, thankfully, battted like one, missing the ball by miles as it clattered into his stumps to end the game.
We'd won an incredible, exciting, intense match by 19 wonderful runs. Andy had finished up with an amazing 4/23, but there was no doubt about the man of the match (even if there was some doubt about how to spell his name, Jorden, Jordon and Jordan all appearing at various locations in the scorebook), and Tom was duly clapped from the ground a very happy boy indeed. As The Cambridge Evening News had it a few days later, ``youth proved no barrier . . . Tom Jordan had the final say''. What was even better, though, was the sense that it was a real team triumph in the field, with three amazing catches, tireless running and constant backing up and support. And, true to that ethos, about half of us headed off to Mickey Flynn's to relive the most exciting moments of the game whilst watching Andy sink four balls off the break. Twice.